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To “blend” means to mix different elements together. Similarly, blended learning refers to the blending of various media and educational resources in a seamless manner, in order to make both teaching and learning worthwhile experiences. Today, blended learning has changed the face of classroom education. Online learning tools and face-to face classroom sessions blended together make this form of learning a very attractive package for students.
Students have the flexibility of taking the course at their own pace. For instance, they can learn from the interactive online modules and presentations. There will be face-to-face classroom sessions, wherein the student can discuss topics or problems with the teacher. There will online discussion groups and forums where the student discusses the subject or assignments with peers.
If the course involves practical classes in a laboratory or any kind of field work, then these will be offered according to a pre-determined schedule; thereafter, the student returns to the online module. Blended learning students are given the provision of submitting assignments online. An online grade card for the marks obtained in the online examinations, online schedule for the course and even progress charts may be embedded in blended learning so as to make it an interesting experience for both the student and teacher alike.
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The Role of the Teacher in Blended Learning
Initially, the teacher has a lot more homework to do than is required for conventional classroom training. First, the blended learning teacher designs the online modules and e-learning tools that will be used for the purpose of online (computer-aided) training.
Secondly, if the teacher is handling the training of several student groups at a time, then there is a good chance of his/her email inbox getting crowded with queries and questions from students. Hence, the teacher must manage these emails effectively along with providing a timely response to them, so that both the students’ and teacher’s schedule is not adversely affected.
A blended learning teacher also manages and maintains online discussion forums. He/she must design the learning modules in such a way that they integrate seamlessly with classroom sessions. If each student has to be given special attention in a particular course, then smaller class sizes should be arranged and the help of several “teaching assistants” may be required. The teacher should make sure that the approaches of any assistants are streamlined and their methods do not conflict with each other. If this happens, chaos may ensue in the flow of the segments.
The teacher can also conduct face-to-face sessions with the students to give a brief introduction of the online training module. He/she may then also give instructions to the students regarding accessing the Internet, submission of assignments, and even proper netiquette with respect to queries. Finally, the teacher should maintain a strict and well-planned schedule for the execution of training via blended learning means.
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Blended Learning and Students
In blended learning, there is little of the traditional “spoon feeding” associated with a brick and mortar classroom education. Students learn independently. Teachers assist them regarding how to access modules, how to use the Internet or the discussion forum, and thus serve as facilitators; however, the remaining part of reading and implementation rest with the learners alone. Blended learning students go through the online material by themselves; this improves their ability to study independently along with honing their creative skills.
If properly designed and executed, blended learning can be a great success. Today, the corporate world encourages blended learning while implementing training programs, simply because it saves a considerable amount of time for both the company and the learner, along with being more cost-effectiveness. However, if the design foundation is not strong, it may lead to a clash of opinions between the teaching assistants, disruption of the proposed schedule, and finally confusion that eventually leads to failure.